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'Lost' no longer: Calgary church continues to help Sudanese refugees.

"YOU HEAR about things happening in places like Sudan, and the question is what can we as Christians here in North America do about this?" said Rev. Victor Kim, minister at Grace, Calgary. "And the answer is not a lot. But these young people can."

James Nguen was a terrified seven-year-old when he fled his home in southern Sudan. He came to Canada in 2001, aged 19, following almost a decade in a Kenyan refugee camp. He is among more than 600 children and young people--known commonly as the lost boys and girls of Sudan--who were sent to Canada as refugees after Sudan's Second Civil War ravaged the country in the 1980s. It pitted the predominantly Muslim and Arab north against the mostly Christian and animist south, leaving about two million dead and 25,000 children displaced or orphaned.

"Coming to Canada, I was worried there would be strange people and a different culture," Nguen said. "I was terrified; anything could happen."

As a refugee, he was required to repay the cost of his plane ticket, mandatory medical fees and other incidental expenses. But he struggled with the debts. It was at this point that he approached the church.

To help would-be students, the congregation set up a fund to provide interest-free loans. These are repaid in monthly installments, and when the fund is no longer needed for educational purposes, it will be available for the lost boys and girls to use in more entrepreneurial endeavours.

"Part of my interest is in the sociology of compassion or what's called 'social entrepreneurship,'" said Dr. Mark Durieux, a sociology professor and convener of the missions committee. "Every one of the lost boys and girls says: 'I want to educate myself. I want to raise money. I want to contribute to the redevelopment of southern Sudan.'"

Southern Alberta has become home to one of the largest growing groups of lost boys and girls. With help from Grace, about 60 young people in the area have created an association and have begun to coordinate efforts to help rebuild their homeland.

"Our hope is to be part of the reconstructing process of Sudan," said Nguen, who currently serves as the association's president and is completing his fourth year of study at the University of Calgary. "I realized when I went back this summer that everything I used to know there was destroyed. So we hope to help wherever we can with rebuilding."

"They're going to become a generation of leaders," Kim said. "Our job is to help and equip and give hope to the community that's here, because these lost boys and girls can go back and have a major impact."

The story of Nguen's first return to southern Sudan was captured in The Long Journey Home, a documentary by independent filmmaker Rick Castiglione. You can find more information at

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Author:Purvis, Connie
Publication:Presbyterian Record
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Oct 1, 2009
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